Tragedies & Trouble

Explore tales
of trials and tribulations,
but also
perseverance and dedication,
concerning our nation’s mail.

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Street collection box impaled during a tornado.

Location: Mail Marks History, “In Times of Trouble – 9/11”

Church Street Post Office after 9/11
A Church Street Post Office employee on site days after the attack.
September 11, 2001: Collecting and Exhibiting a National Tragedy »

On September 11, 2001, a terrorist attack struck the World Trade Center (WTC) in New York City, killing thousands and bringing all operations in the city to a halt. These items came from the Church Street Post Office, which served the WTC under its unique ZIP code of 10048 (no longer in use today). The post office was successfully evacuated during the attack, but within days postal employees were back at work to re-establish delivery service in the neighborhood.

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Handstamp used at the Church Street Post Office displaying the post office zip code (10007) and date (SEP 11 2001).
Church Street Objects »
Damaged Church Street collection box
Street collection box, which was located at 90 Church Street in New York City, was damaged on September 11, 2001.
Street collection box damaged September 11, 2001 »

Location: Mail Marks History, “On Land & Sea”

Titanic post room keys
Sea Post Clerk Oscar Scott Woody’s post room keys.
Sea Post Clerk Oscar S. Woody's set of keys »

None of the five mail clerks onboard the RMS Titanic—the largest mail ship of its day—survived the ship’s sinking on April 15, 1912, but eyewitnesses reported that clerks were working until the last minute trying to save mail aboard the ship. Sea Post Clerks were highly respected and handsomely paid, but had to endure cramped working conditions and dangerous voyages. Although none of the mail aboard the Titanic escaped the sinking, a few pieces that were delivered before the ship’s departure for New York survived to tell the tale.

Titanic pocket watch
Pocket watch that belonged to Sea Post Clerk John Starr March.
Titanic’s Mail Clerks »
Two pages of a letter in a display case
Letter mailed from the RMS Titanic. Did you know that RMS stands for Royal Mail Ship?
Mail Marks History »

Location: National Stamp Salon, Pullout Frame 1

Continental Army letter
The Continental Army endured six months of bitter cold, sickness, and hardship at the Valley Forge encampment.
Nathanael Greene to Joseph Webb, 1778 »

Before the digital age, how did people get the message out for help when they needed it? Major General Nathanael Greene wrote a letter to shopkeeper Joseph Webb Jr. in 1778, asking for needed supplies for the army at Valley Forge. Greene had been appointed by General George Washington to lead and reorganize the Quartermaster Department, which were no easy tasks with dwindling supplies and a lack of support from Congress. The letter reads “On publick Service” to make clear that no postage was needed, so that the letter was sent as official business.

British loyalist letter
Before and during the Revolutionary War, some British loyalists would send letters through private mail carriers in order to bypass revolutionary interference, like the one shown here from Henry Lloyd in 1775.
Loyalist: Boston, 1775 »

Location: National Stamp Salon, Pullout Frame 14

Confederate envelope
Letter sent to John Hincks in 1865. The letter was given to a blockade runner and sent to Cuba before it arrived in New Orleans.
Confederate blockade-run cover »

With the United States divided during the Civil War, postal patrons faced a new challenge: getting their letters across the wartime border. Families and businesses living on one side or the other had to rely on smugglers and private companies to carry the mail “through the lines” after an exchange ban in 1861. Although designated flag-of-truce exchange points were later established, letters could still be subjected to strict censorship.

Confederate envelope to New Orleans
Letter sent from the Confederate States of America to Union-occupied New Orleans in 1864. This letter went through official channels and was censored before arrival.
Confederate flag-of-truce cover »

Location: Binding the Nation, “Creating Postal Routes”

Illustration of Central America sinking
Illustration from Harper’s Magazine of the sinking.
Sinking of the “Central America” – and its Rebirth »

Before mail routes were established across the United States, mail traveling between the East Coast and the West was sent via boat on a journey that went all the way around South America or was sent by boat and then by train across Panama or Nicaragua. The “Central America” steamer was on its way to New York City when a hurricane sank the ship off the coast of South Carolina on September 12, 1857. Over 450 people died as a result and 30,000 pounds of gold was lost with the ship. More than 130 years later the shipwreck was discovered, sans the mail, leading to a controversy over ownership.

Central America model
Model of the “Central America” at the National Postal Museum.
Sinking of the “Central America” – and its Rebirth »

Location: Behind the Badge, “First Priority”

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Street collection box impaled by a shard of wood during a tornado in Greensburg, Kansas, in 2007.
Destroyed Street Collection Box »

Major disasters like tornados and hurricanes disrupt every part of the daily life. In the event of national disasters, the U.S. Postal Service plays a key role in restoring a sense of normalcy to communities. Resuming postal operations means re-establishing communication between displaced persons and their families, a vital step towards safety and comfort.

About four postal jeeps in a ditch
Postal inspectors were deployed to western Pennsylvania following a devastating flood, which was caused by a massive thunderstorm on July 19-20, 1977. The jeeps in the image, swept away by the enormous force of the floodwaters, were recovered half a mile from the Windber Post Office.
Postal Jeeps Caught in Flood »

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